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stroak the eare, and (as one of them sayd of himself sweetly)—
“ Must write a verse as smooth, as calm as creame,
and thus, by a very natural declension, we acquired the monotony of a nursery ditty; the sing-song lullabies of our infant years. It is, then, with an unmixed feeling of pleasure that we ought to view the resuscitation of our ancient drama, and every step that we proceed in the acquisition of its bold and nervous style of writing, is to be regarded as an additional honor to the age in which we live. And, as a corollary, let me hope, if the position be core rect, that he who endeavours to promote it; he, who as far as his abilities extend, strives to affix another link to the golden chain of genuine poesy-how great soever be his failure, let me hope that he may merit pardon.
But while I am thus urgent in behalf of
« Newes from the new world discovered in the Moone. A masque, as it was presented at court before King James, 1620," Ed. 1640.
those exquisite strains of native melody, which the Elizabethan poets more particularly supplied, I would not have it imagined that I am blind to their numerous defects. Extravagance of plot, sentiment, and character, is I believe, at times, peculiar to them all. This has been noticed with some spirit, by George Whetstone, a writer of the period to which I allude, in a prefatory epistle to a play, called " The Historie of Promos and Cassandra ;"* addressed “ To his worshipfull Frende and Kinseman, William Fleetewoode, Esquier, Recorder of London," and dated the 29th July, 1578. “ The Englishman,” he says, “ in this qualitie is most vaine, indiscreete, and out of order: he first groundes his worke on impossibilities: then in three howers ronnes he throwe the worlde: marryes, gets children, makes children men, men to conquer kingdomes, murder monsters, and bringeth gods from Heaven, and fetcheth divels from Hel.”+
From this Play Shakespeare drew his plot of " Measure for Measure."
+ See moreover the opinion of the admirable Sir Philip Sidney, : in his “ Defence of Poesy." Works, vol. 3. p. 43.-1724. .
But this was not all. They were often absurd. ly forgetful of the costume or keeping of their dramas, if I may so speak; and it is perhaps to be accounted for, by recollecting the paucity of scenes and theatre properties, and the consequent carelessness, which such a circumstanca would naturally create. Their indecencies are intolerable; but the reader should forget them if he can; or remember with their apologists, that it was the fault more of an inartificial age, than of the writers who lived in, and copied its
Anachronisms too, occur in every page. No matter where, or at what period, the representations are stated to take place, allusions to passing events and present customs are strangely and ridiculously mingled. One considerable advantage however, we derive from this. Every play of those days, furnishes us
• u The distinctions between modesty of thought," (says Mr. Way.-Translation of the • Fabliaux,' par M. Le Grand, p. xxxiii of the Preface. Ed. 1796.) "and decency which resides in the ex. pression, is a modern refinement; a compromise, between chas. tity and seduction, which stipulates not the exclusion, but only the disguise of licentiousness; and may perhaps be a proof of a purer taste, but is no evidence of a very severe and rigid morality."
with an accurate transcript of their fashions and manners; and instead of collecting from precedent times how the characters which, they have supposed to act in them, would have acted; they yield us a deeper interest, while they embody the actions of themselves and their contemporaries. To the antiquary therefore, as well as to the mere man of letters, these facts are invaluable; and in some measure reconcile us to the faults, which we cannot altogether overlook.
“ The nature of a preface," says Dryden,*" is rambling; never wholly out of the way, nor in it :" and I shall now use the liberty he maintains, and observe something upon my own endeavours. Humble, as I sincerely confess they are, and little as I can have to claim for them, I do not think that the leisure arising amid more important employments has been absolutely mispent here. Every pursuit needs relaxation, and this is to me the most grateful. Lessons of morality may be inculcated as well in verse, as in prose; and the mind that nau
Preface to Tales from Chaucer.
seates them in the one, does not, I am afraid, incline more zealously, when they are presented in the other. To such, however, as despise instruction, unless it plod along in the veriest nakedness of prose, I may say, that the books most rich in poetic diction-most abounding in sublime and terrible imagery—that speak most forcibly to the heart, and by appeals to Nature, raise it rapidly and fervidly to “ Nature's God,” are the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Isaiah, and the touching complaints of the afflicted Job,* are believed by Bishop Lowth and others, to have been originally written in measured lines, at least, if not in rhyme; and the language of our Saviour
* “The book of Job is, perhaps, the first dramatic piece that ever was written. It is evidently a tragedy, and the design of it is to show, cur malis bene, et bonis male." - Bishop Hare, from Spence's Anecdotes, p. 332.
There is probably too much of fancy in the opinion here ex. pressed; but it has been very generally couceived, that Job was no real existing character. The Bishop of Winchester, however, thinks differently; (see his “ Elements of Christian Theology," vol. 1. p. 94.) and though one should be willing to admit the actuality of the person; yet the book itself would appear to be the production of another hand. As an historical poem, its author might still be inspired; and such I take to be the positive fact.